by Jeanine Sih
[Editor’s notes: The Sustainable Building Coaltion evolved into Design~Build~Live and is still going strong. Lucia Athens spent a number of years in the Pacific Northwest, wrote a book, and as of June 2010 is Austin’s Chief Sustainability Officer. ]
The Sustainable Building Coalition is a collection of about 200 people who share a vision of what buildings of the future should be. Their membership is diverse: contractors, architects, business owners, engineers, professors, and folks who are in the planning and construction stages of building a green home. The group is a talent pool, a database, and many in it are now spreading the green gospel. Many of the people whose names appear in these articles[the April 1994 “Green” issue of the Austin Chronicle] are members.
Lucia Athens is a founding member of the Sustainable Building Coalition. “The Coalition has a community building effect, which is part of what sustainablity is to me. I look at sustainability on a lot of different levels. I look at what it takes to sustain community, and what it takes to sustain us spiritually, what our connections are to other human beings as well as what our connections mean to us, how we are either supported or not supported by the buildings we live in
“One of the things we have to reform is our economic way of defining what has value and what does not, like a habitat area, or visual aesthetics, or clean air. it is very difficult to assign values to these things. So far [the building community] calls these things `externalities.’ If you don’t assign some kind of cost to these things, it’s the same as saying that their value is zero.”
Ms. Athens is a Texas Registered Landscape Architect and runs her own sustainable landscaping business. She explains that there are plenty of ways to live smarter – planting deciduous trees on your property to shade your house from summer sun, collecting rainwater to use for irrigation. – “There needs to be a consciousness of minimizing dependence on the grid. I think that people who
live in West Austin, which typically is very shallow soils – a lot of rock and trenching has to be done to provide water – should be paying more for their service than people who are going east. There should be a way to have a utility fee structure that would encourage people to go east. That’s not where development is happening. That’s where the deeper, better soils and good flat building sites are. It’s where we don’t have a lot of problems with endangered wildlife habitat area.
“Everyone wants to go and be in the most beautiful area, thereby degrading it. You’ve got to get into this philosophy for development where you identify the most beautiful area on the site – that’s where you don’t build. The tendency is `that’s where I want to put my house – it’s gorgeous!’ There need to be incentives for [green building] in the city limits.” She also says that stringent city building codes sometimes marginalize the more radical green building projects (like straw bale constructions). She would like to see the coalition become more politically active in an effort to change these building codes.